During his first few years in the NFL, wide receiver Kalif Raymond bounced around the league from practice squad to active roster and back to practice squad just trying to find his niche.
He found it in Tennessee in 2019 and 2020 as mostly a special teams player returning kicks and punts. The Lions signed Raymond last offseason and gave him an opportunity to play a bigger role on offense for the first time in his career after Detroit suffered some early injuries at the position. Raymond also returned punts for the Lions. He notched a career-high 48 receptions for 576 yards (12.0 average) with four touchdowns last season in Detroit. He'd never caught more than nine passes in any previous season in the NFL.
So free agency this time around was admittedly a little different for Raymond, who showed last year he can be more than just a return man. He re-signed with the Lions through the 2023 season on Friday with the expectation of being a key contributor on both offense and special teams.
"Not too long ago I'm just trying to get on a practice squad or even have a job," Raymond said Friday after signing his new deal. "It was just such a blessing to be in the league itself.
"I'm here in a different position. I'm blessed to have the kind of chance and opportunity I had (in Detroit last year). For me, it's just eyes wide open and I want to be open to the blessings I've been given."
Raymond appeared in 16 games (14 starts) for Detroit last season, posting those 48 receptions and four touchdowns to go along with an 11.2 yard punt-return average, which was the fourth best in the NFL.
One of the best assets Raymond brings are his sure hands. When the ball hits Raymond's hands, it almost always sticks.
"I had a coach tell me awhile back there's good hands, there's great hands and then there's confident hands," Raymond said.
In 2017, Raymond bought a jugs machine and caught thousands of punts. He said he got to a point where he was no longer thinking about catching the football, but instead about making a play afterward. That manifested itself in Detroit last year with a solid return average and ball security.
"I knew that was something in my game that was important," Raymond said of being a good return man. "Kept me in the NFL."
Catching thousands of punts, along with his daily routine of catching 200 passes from the jugs machine, has given Raymond those confident hands.
He is the third receiver the Lions have signed or re-signed since the start of free agency this week. They re-signed Josh Reynolds earlier in the week and signed unrestricted free agent DJ Chark from Jacksonville on Thursday. Asked about Chark on Friday, Raymond said he's a big fan of his game.
Go behind the scenes with the Detroit Lions during 2022 free agency.
"You put on his tape and you watch the route craft from somebody that size, it's really cool to see," Raymond said.
The Lions also return Amon-Ra St. Brown, who had a stellar rookie season in 2021, third-year receiver Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy and Javon McKinley. Detroit could also opt to add another youngster from a very talented and deep pool of receivers in this year's NFL Draft next month.
But the re-signing of Raymond gives the Lions a player who fits perfectly into the culture the Lions are building. He also gives the receiver room a veteran, sure-handed player that adds to their overall depth.
"I think you go into the season working as hard as you can for the potential for anything to happen," Raymond said. "I just want to make sure that when my number is called on at any point in time, whether it's one time, 10 times or 50 times, that I've got the playbook down like the back of my hand, I caught those jugs and I caught those passes ... so that when the opportunity comes, and it's here, and no matter how many reps it is, I'm ready."